The French Riviera, 1956. Bernie Gunther, our sardonic former Berlin homicide dick and unwilling SS officer, is the go-to guy at the Grand-Hôtel du Cap-Ferrat, the man you turn to for touring tips or if you need a fourth for bridge. As it happens, a local writer needs just that, someone to fill the fourth seat in a regular game that is the usual evening diversion at the Villa Mauresque. Not just any writer. Perhaps the most famous living writer in the world: W. Somerset Maugham. And it turns out it is not just a bridge partner that he needs; it’s some professional advice. Maugham is being blackmailed—perhaps because of his unorthodox lifestyle. Or perhaps because of something in his past, because once upon a time, Maugham worked for the British Secret Service, and the people now blackmailing him are spies.
As Gunther fans know, all roads lead back to the viper's nest that was Hitler’s Third Reich and to the killing fields that spread like a disease across Europe. Even in 1956, peace has not come to the continent now that the Soviets also have the H-bomb and spies from every major power feel free to make all of Europe their playground.